The Rule of Law is foundational to resilient democratic societies. 

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USAID believes that the basic premise of the rule of law is that no one is above the law, and that the law “rules” through public and legitimate laws that apply to everyone. Without the rule of law, autocracy, corruption, impunity, discrimination, and a host of other societal ills go unchecked and unpunished. As such, the rule of law is not just linked to, but necessary for, every other development goal. 

Without the rule of law to check corruption, elites gain priority access to public social goods, such as healthcare or education. Without the rule of law to guard against impunity, the rights and freedoms of society’s most vulnerable go unprotected. Without the rule of law, access to economic opportunity is available only to the connected few able to game the system. 

Sidebar: Rule of Law Resources

The justice system is the societal machinery – government institutions, civic organizations, and individuals – that works to realize the rule of law by administering dispute resolution, protecting rights, and providing security. 

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Feelings of injustice – or, the burden of unresolved legal problems – are a core driver of political violence. Countries with weak rule of law are more likely to have ineffective governing institutions and higher levels of corruption; together, these weaknesses mean these nations are burdened by a 30-to-45 percent higher risk of civil war and a higher risk of extreme criminal violence than other developing countries.

USAID’s work promoting the rule of law has never been more important. 

Ukrainian judge explains the rule of law and judicial independence to school children.

We focus on:

  • Judicial Independence - Strengthening judiciaries to be functionally independent and effectively self-governing. 
  • Enhancing the Administration of Justice - Improving the management and accessibility of courts and the efficiency, recordkeeping, and transparency of their operations. 
  • Expanding Access to Justice and Empowering Citizens with Legal Literacy - Expanding citizen access to and knowledge of the law, expanding linkages and cooperation between formal and informal justice systems, including means of alternative dispute resolution.
  • Combating Crime, Violence, and Insecurity - Modernizing security-sector governance, improving the effective use of problem-solving and community-engaged policing, and improving services available to victims, especially the vulnerable, and witnesses.
  • Developing and Strengthening the Legal Profession and Legal Education - Establishing and improving standards and procedures for testing, licensing, and disciplining legal professionals and strengthening legal education management, curricula development, legal education, and experiential learning. 

Illustrative Accomplishments: 

  • Ghana: USAID assistance enabled the Ghanaian judiciary to gain greater control over its funding. Today, they regularly advocate for increased resource allocations and participate fully in executive and legislative action affecting their budget. Judicial officers now justify and defend allocations before the relevant parliamentary committees. Additionally, with USAID support, the judiciary continues to increase its ability to conduct judicial review and legislative oversight and engage with several critical bodies, including the Parliament and the Ghana Audit Service. 
  • South Africa: USAID’s support has empowered sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) victims, especially children. Funding and technical support have led to programs for child witness preparation and public awareness and education campaigns to schools raising SGBV awareness throughout the country. USAID strengthened civil society’s capacity to oversee court processes and judicial decisions on SGBV and supported the development of a uniform information reporting and record keeping system for non-governmental organizations to support advocacy for victims and to improve government response. 
 Information technology has made courts more accessible in the Philippines. Photo courtesy USAID Judicial Strengthening to Improve Court Effectiveness (JUSTICE) project)
  • Colombia: USAID has been instrumental in Colombia’s efforts to establish a new adversarial criminal justice system. A new criminal procedure code in 2002 and a series of other laws enacted during 2005-2020 have helped to make the administration of criminal justice more efficient, transparent, and equitable. USAID technical assistance helped Colombia implement new systems, modernize justice institutions, and expand reform from the national to sub-national (departmental) and municipal levels. 
  • Indonesia: USAID supported the Indonesian Supreme Court’s “Long Blueprint,” a strategy for administrative and transparency-related reforms across the judiciary. Capitalizing on local knowledge and expertise, USAID underwrote a series of Indonesian-led strategic plans to improve the Anti-Corruption Court, the Commercial Court, and the Supreme Court. The Blueprint process used data from the Central Statistics Agency to strengthen judicial career paths. Judiciary leaders developed standards for digital information dissemination and today judges demonstrate greater commitment to transparency, regularly posting decisions and other court data online.   
court is in session in a local Indonesian community venue. Photo: Ruth Panjaitan for USAID
  • Georgia: Civil society advocacy, monitoring, and engagement with justice systems is an important feature of USAID rule of law programming. In Georgia, USAID has supported civic organizations and legal professional institutions to build community awareness of and trust in the justice system. A core focus has been ensuring courts are responsive to the legal needs of the community (a tenet of USAID’s people-centered justice approach). By partnering with courts and legal professionals, USAID has supported efforts to expand court-community engagement practices using examples from around the world. 
 Georgian CSOs protest in front of the national offices of the judiciary. Photo courtesy USAID Promoting the Rule of Law in Georgia project
Colombians discuss how the law applies to ethnic minorities. Photo courtesy of USAID Justice for Sustainable Peace project
Colombians discuss how the law applies to ethnic minorities. Photo courtesy of USAID Justice for Sustainable Peace project

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